Class Region: 5A Region 4
Coach: Mike Battles Jr., ninth season, 60-30 overall
Last year: 5-4, 3-3 in 5A, Region 2; missed postseason
Class Distribution: 12 seniors, 21 juniors, 14 sophomores, 15 freshmen
Stadium Name: J.E. “Hot” O’Brien Stadium
Stadium Location: 302 Gilmer Avenue, Tallassee, AL 36078
It has been 25 years since Tallassee last experienced a three-year absence from the postseason but the Tigers are in danger of hitting that if they fail to make a playoff appearance in 2020. After falling just one win shy in each of the past two seasons, pressure is on to take that extra step but coach Mike Battles said it has not even been brought up within the team.
“You don’t have to mention to them what the goals are,” Battles said. “If you go into it with that kind of pressure and focus on one thing like that too much, you’re not going to make the playoffs. They know what has happened the last two years; they have heard about that enough. Our folks expect us to be successful.”
Battles admitted there is an extra amount of emotion entering this season but it has nothing to do with the playoff drought. After months of uncertainty surrounding the return of football, he is just ready to get the Tigers back out under the lights.
“I get excited every year but there is a level of anxiety we have to deal with,” Battles said. “Our kids are just ready to play. I think they have done a tremendous job and they have worked their tails off. Our kids have practiced as hard or harder than any bunch I have had.”
After relying a lot on its youth last season, Tallassee is hoping last year’s experience will dividends for several returning starters, starting with second-year quarterback Tyler Ellis.
Ellis is still just a sophomore but started all nine games last season. The Tigers did not rely on their passing game much last season but Battles is hoping Ellis can now lead a more unpredictable offense.
“Last year, we asked him not to lose games but now we’re going to ask him to make some plays and win games for us,” Battles said. “He’s matured a lot. He is day and night further along than he was last year. He’s starting to do the things a veteran quarterback does.”
The Tigers will surround Ellis with a majority of last year’s supporting cast, including all three running backs. Zavion Carr, Marciano Smith and Jalyn Daniels will be splitting a bulk of the carries with JT Carvin and Clayten Gough mixed in as well.
“Potentially we could have three of those guys on the field at one time,” Battles said. “We have three different groups we can run out there and that’s good because it’ll give the other guys a chance to get a rest.”
Daniels may see most of his time lined up out wide at receiver, joining Duke Washington and Thomas Battles as key targets in the passing game.
“This year we have some really good players and we have to make sure we give all of them some opportunities,” Battles said. “They all have different skill sets. It’s a good problem to have. Any of those guys can go a long way when they get the ball. We’re going to try to get all of those guys as many touches as possible.”
Tallassee returns three starters at the line of scrimmage to lead the way for its array of skill players. Tackle Jowon McCurty and guard Logan Thompkins return to fill up the right side of the line with three-year starter Trace Meek back at center.
Hunter Hammock is currently in line to start at left guard while Max Moore will fill in at left tackle. Hunter Timmerman, Austin Gray and Micah Cole have also gotten reps with the first team.
“Most of those guys can play multiple positions,” Battles said. “We’re fortunate enough to have a lot of guys that can play on that line. It’s going to be a war of attrition down there this year so the more people we can get into those game situations, the better off we’re going to be.”
Cole broke into the starting lineup on the defensive line about half way through last season and he will return to play nose guard in Tallassee’s three-man front. Michael Moore is back to start at one end with Jordan May and Kalib Baker splitting snaps on the other side.
Carr is expected to be an every-down player on defense, returning to his starting role at outside linebacker. Will Smith is back in the middle, pairing with Mason Bell who is moving down after starting two years in the secondary.
With Bell at linebacker, that leaves four vacant spots in the secondary as the Tigers pass defense will have new faces at the top of the depth chart. Gough and Washington will fill in at safety with Daniels starting at one of the cornerback spots. DJ Leonard, Ziggy Holloway and Smith are competing for reps opposite of Daniels.
“It’s a big question mark,” Battles said. “Those guys are going to be really good down the road because they’re all going to be back but for now, they just have to learn on the run. The thing about tremendous athletes is they can cover a lot of ground. You can make up for a lot of things with speed, agility and explosion. We have four guys back there that are tremendous athletes.”